Blood Pressure, Heart Health, Nutrition

Ready . . . Set . . . DASH!

Apples and pears. Photo Credit Zsuzsanna Kilian

It seems every day we’re hearing about some new product that promises to do  amazing things like save you time and/or money on household chores or eliminate fat from certain parts of the body.  Sometimes these gadgets and gizmos work, and sometimes they . . . well . . . don’t. 

 The same is true for a number of popular (some may say “fad”) diet programs on the market:  some are more successful at helping people develop healthy eating habits and maintain a healthy weight than others.  Earlier this year, U. S. News & World Report investigated and ranked 20 popular diet plans based on their effectiveness at promoting weight loss (both short and long term), ease of use, nutritional content and other criteria.  The DASH diet, an eating plan recognized for its effectiveness at lowering high blood pressure, was ranked number one in two categories.

 DASH (which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was developed through research by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute on the effect of diet on blood pressure.  Study participants following the DASH eating plan—which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy, as well lean protein and nuts (which are all naturally low in sodium and saturated fat)—saw a significant decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol.  Not only that, following the DASH diet can help avoid heart attack and stroke and can prevent the development of hypertension among people with normal blood pressure.  Thanks to its proven cardiovascular benefits, the DASH diet has been endorsed by the American Heart Association  

DASH is lower in fat and sodium and higher in several key nutrients believed to help lower blood pressure (including magnesium, calcium and potassium) than a typical American diet.  And, because of its focus on nutrient-rich whole foods (especially fruits, vegetables and whole grains), DASH may also help prevent the development of osteoporosis and some cancers

(Post content reviewed by MGH Nutrition Department. Photo Credit Zsuzsanna Kilian)

Blood Pressure, Heart Health, Nutrition

Pass the Potassium, Please

yellow bananas

Many discussions about hypertension lately seem to revolve around sodium, most notably the recommendation for limiting the amount of sodium in the diet.  One of the findings of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s DASH study was a diet low in sodium is effective at lowering high blood pressure (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).  But there’s another nutrient that also needs to be included in the hypertension conversation:  potassium. 

Like sodium, potassium is an essential nutrient for living—in fact it works along with sodium to keep the body’s fluids in balance and send messages along the nervous system.  Potassium also plays a role in muscle contraction and is crucial for keeping the heart beating properly.  But while sodium is abundant in the typical American diet, many people don’t get enough potassium. 

 Adding more potassium to your diet can be as easy as eating a variety of fruits and vegetables—in fact the DASH eating plan, which emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, is higher in potassium than the typical American diet.  Bananas are probably one of the best known sources of potassium (there’s about 450mg in one medium banana), but sweet potatoes, white potatoes (with skin), tomatoes, oranges, avocados and apricots are good sources as well.  And another plus:  fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium.  

Some other non-vegetable sources of potassium include white beans; fish such as tuna, halibut and salmon; and dairy products like low fat milk and yogurt.  Check out the USDA’s Nutrient Database for more information on nutrient content— including sodium and potassium— of many common foods.

(Post content reviewed by MGH Cardiologist and Nutritionist. Photo from